Science traditionally advances in two steps. The first is taken in a laboratory or library, the second when sharing the results.
Online, digital publishing of so-called preprints has quickened the beat tremendously, closing the gap between researcher and reader.
For the most part, we are better off, with the accelerated development of treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 as the model example. Yet when research is retracted, the record may not reflect the reversal.
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A peer-reviewed article published this month in PLOS ONE has examined what happens in the scientific record when journal-published versions of articles are retracted in cases of research previously available on preprint servers.
Michele Avissar-Whiting, editor-in-chief of Research Square, a leading preprint provider, found a reassuringly small number of such retractions.
However, she also says that inconsistencies in publisher responses pose a threat to the scholarly record and to scientific integrity.
“Look, retractions are still a contentious thing. I think some of the best work being done in scientific integrity is the work to destigmatize the retraction – not just normalize it but reward the admission of fault and the active correction of the record by authors,” says Avissar-Whiting.
“The more we can do in this area, I think the more we’ll see authors taking responsibility,” she tells me.